By Kenneth Jones
17 May 2000
On May 4, The Encores! concert production of the Leonard Bernstein-Adolph Green-Betty Comden musical Wonderful Town opened at New York City's City Center to some of the best reviews the in-concert series has seen in some time, with particular praise being doled out for star Donna Murphy.
Well, apparently, the reviews and the show have attracted the attention of a bevy of producers, among them Elizabeth Williams and Anita Waxman, who are currently enjoying their best season ever, having had a hand in The Real Thing, The Music Man and A Moon for the Misbegotten. Williams told Playbill On-Line at the Tony Awards Nominees luncheon that she and various other producers were interested in the show. She cautioned, however, that nothing had been decided and that she hadn't even had a meeting yet about the possibility of moving the show to Broadway.
Laura Benanti -- a Tony nominee for Swing! and one of the stars of Wonderful Town -- confirmed that there was interest in Town and that she would be love to repeat her performance as Eileen if asked. "Doing that show affirmed everything about why I am doing musical theatre," she said. Benanti's contract at Swing! expires in November.
A representative for Murphy said that nothing concerning Town had been discussed but that the actress would love to see a remounting of the production. Murphy, who played Ruth, has appeared on Broadway in Passion and The King and I, winning Tonys for both performances.
Also in the Encores! cast were Richard Muenz, David Aaron Baker, Lewis J. Stadlen (Mizlansky/Zilinsky), Gregory Jbara (Victor/Victoria), Becky Ann Baker (Titanic), Alix Korey (The Wild Party), Raymond Jaramillo McLeod, Stephen DeRosa (Do Re Mi), Patrick Quinn, Ray Wills, Jenny Hill and Steve Ryan (Guys and Dolls). Kathleen Marshall directed and choreographed.
Marshall is the artistic director of the Encores! Series. Her handiwork has been seen this season in Stephen Sondheim's Saturday Night and the revival of Kiss Me, Kate. David Ives, who has found a second career adapting old musical books for Encores!, does so again with Town.
Wonderful Town has never had a major Broadway revival. The story brings characters from My Sister Eileen back to life. The parade of Greenwich Village life in the 1930s includes such songs as "Conga!," "Ohio," "Christopher Street," "My Darlin' Eileen," "A Quiet Girl," "What a Waste" and "Wrong Note Rag." Rosalind Russell starred as big sister Ruth in both the original and in a TV version. Both versions are on CD, as are others: A London revival, a studio-cast recording of the entire score (on the Jay label) and yet another recent studio-cast recording conducted by Simon Rattle (on the EMI Classics label), with Audra McDonald as little sister Eileen.
The score is famous for being written in only a few months, in order to fit star Russell's schedule.
The current Broadway revival of Chicago began as an Encores! concert. So far, it is the only Encores! show to transfer to Broadway.